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each line of labour which his spirit may strike into he will make his mark, and set his stamp on any metal he may take in hand to forge ; for he can strike into no wrong line, and take in hand no base metal. So equal a balance of two great gifts as we find in the genius of this artist is perhaps the greatest gift of all, as it is certainly the most singular. We cannot tell what jewels were lost to the treasure-house of time in that century of sonnets which held “the bosom-beats of Raffael ;” we can but guess that they had somewhat, and doubt how nearly they had all, of his perfect grace and godhead of heavenly humanity. Even of the giant-god his rival we cannot be sure that his divine faculties never clashed or crossed each other to their mutual hindrance.
But here, where both the sister powers serve in the temple of one mind and impel the work of one hand, their manner of service is smooth, harmonious, perfect; the splendid quality of painting and the subtle faculty of verse gain glory from each other without taking, reign side by side with no division of empire, yet with no confusion of claims, with no invasion of rights. No tongueless painter or handless poet could be safer from the perils of mixed art ; his poems are not over pictorial or his pictures over poetical ; his poetry has not the less depth and reach and force and height of spirit proper to poetry, his painting has not the less might and skill, the less excellence of form and colour or masterdom of design and handiwork proper to painting, for the double glory of his genius. Which of the two great men in him, the painter or the poet, be the greater, only another artist equal to him on either hand and taintless of jealousy or misconceit could say with authority worth a hearing ; and such a judge he is not likely to find. But what is his relative rank among other men it needs no such rare union of faculties to perceive. His place among the painters of his century may be elsewhere debated and determined; but here and now the materials lie before us for decision as to his place among its poets. Of these there is but one alive whose name is already unamenable to any judgment of the hour's; whose supremacy, whether it be or be not a matter of question between insular and provincial circles of parasites or sectarians, is no more debateable before any graver tribunal than the motion of the earth round the sun. Upon him, as upon two or three other of the leaders of men in time past, the verdict of time has been given before his death. In our comparison of men with men for worse or better we do not now take into reckoning the name of Victor Hugo. The small gatherings or swollen assemblies of important ephemerals who met to dispute the respective claims and merits of Shakespeare and Jonson, Milton and Waller, Shelley and Byron, have on the whole fallen duly dumb : the one supreme figure of each time is as generally and openly acknowledged by all capable articulate creatures as need be desired. To sit in the seat of such disputants can be no present man's ambition. It ought to be, if it be not, superfluous to set down in words the assurance that we claim for no living poet a place beside the Master; that we know there is no lyrist alive but one who could have sung for us the cradle-song of death, the love-song of madness, the sea-song of exile, the hunting-song of revolution ; that since the songs of Gretchen in “Faust” and Beatrice in the “Cenci," there have been no such songs heard among men as the least of these first four among all his lyrics that rise to recollection at the moment. Fantine's song or Gastibelza's, the “Adieu, patrie !” or the “Chasseur Noir,” any one of these by itself would suffice to establish, beyond debate and beyond acclamation, the absolute sovereignty of the great poet whose glory could dispense even with any of these.
The claims to precedence of other men who stand in the vanguard of their time are open matters for the discussion of judgments to adjust or readjust. Among Englishspeaking poets of his age I know of none who can reasonably be said to have given higher proof of the highest qualities than Mr. Rossetti; if the qualities we rate highest in poetry be imagination, passion, thought, harmony and variety of singing power. Each man who has anything has his own circle of work and realm of rule, his own field to till and to reign in; no rival can overmatch for firm completion of lyric line, for pathos made perfect and careful melody of high or of intimate emotion, “ New-Year's Eve ” or “ The Grandmother,” “Enone” or “ Boadicea,” the majestic hymn or the rich lament for love won and lost in “Maud ;” none can emulate the fiery subtlety and sinuous ardour of spirit which penetrates and lights up all secret gulfs and glimmering heights of human evil and good in “The Ring and the Book,” making the work done live because “the soul of man is precious to man :” none can “blow in power” again through the notched reed of Pan by the river, to detain the sun on the hills with music; none can outrun that smooth speed of gracious strength which touched its Grecian goal in “ Thyrsis” and the “Harp-player;" none can light as with fires or lull as with flutes of magic the reaches of so full a stream of story as flows round the “Earthly Paradise” with ships of heroes afloat on it. But for height and range and depth, for diversity and perfection of powers, Mr. Rossetti is abreast of elder poets not less surely than of younger. Again I take to witness, four singled poems; “ The Burden of Nineveh,” “Sister Helen,” “Jenny,” and “Eden Bower.” Though there were not others as great as these to cite at need, we might be content to pass judgment on the strength of these only; but others as great there are. If he have not the full effluence of romance or the keen passion of human science that give power on this hand to Morris and on that to Browning, his work has form and voice, shapeliness and sweetness, unknown to the great analyst; it has weight and heat, gravity and intensity, wanting to the less serious and ardent work of the latest master of romance. Neither by any defect of form nor by any default of force does he ever fall short of either mark or fight with either hand “as one that beateth the air." In sureness of choice and scope of interest, in solidity of subject and sublimity of object, the general worth of his work excels the rate of other men's ; he wastes no breath and mistakes no distance, sets his genius to no tasks unfit for it, and spends his strength in the culture of no fruitless fields. What he would do is always what a poet should, and what he would do is always done. Born a light-bearer and leader of men, he has always fulfilled his office with readiness and done his work with might. Help and strength and delight and fresh life have long been gifts of his
giving, and freely given as only great gifts can be. And now that at length we receive from hands yet young and strong this treasure of many years, the gathered flower of youth and ripe firstlings of manhood, a fruit of the topmost branch “more golden than gold,” all men may witness and assure themselves what manner of harvest the life of this man was to bear ; all may see that although, in the perfect phrase of his own sonnet, the last birth of life be death, as her three first-born were love and art and song, yet two of these which she has borne to him, art namely and song, cannot now be made subject to that last ; that life and love with it may pass away, but very surely no death that ever may be born shall have power upon these for ever.